Philip Williams is the Catastrophe Kid.
If anything can go wrong in his life, it will. Calamity follows calamity and he begins to believe that his existence is ruled by a malevolent star. He remains buoyant in the face of adversity until, that is, he finds himself on a collision course with the rogue-star itself.
Philip’s quest for love and freedom takes him from the Welsh seaside, through turmoil in London, to what seems to be a haven in Provence.
Cover illustration by Elspeth Murray. Graphics by Phil Crow.
Ian Thomson’s previous novel The Northern Elements was the winner of a Chill with a Book Premier Readers’ Award, 2019.
Ian Thomson was educated at Downing College, Cambridge. He lives in Lincoln.
An extract from A Dish of Apricots
‘Very soon,’ Cerys interrupted, ‘I am going to break Cardi in. Then I’ll teach you how to ride. And Cardi can be your very own horse. How would you like that?’
‘Gwych!’ I said, which means ‘great’, and I galloped around the kitchen on my imaginary horse, my wounds forgotten.
Cerys was adopted too. Her parents had been killed in a road accident when she was two. When Tiwlip and her husband, Cai Williams, discovered that they couldn’t have children, they welcomed Cerys into Plas y Bryn and wrapped her in love. And when she was ten, she declared that she wanted a little brother.
I had been abandoned as a new born baby and found in a Tesco carrier bag in the ladies’ toilets at Chepstow racecourse. Cai and Tiwlip found me through an agency and added me to the family. The police had called me Philip and my new parents saw no reason to change it.
I never knew Cai. He died from cancer when I was barely a year old. It was a tragedy of course, though it brought our little family even closer together. Cerys and Tiwlip adored me and I wanted for nothing.
Tiwlip had been right. The morning after Bethan had decided to chomp a lump out of my shoulder, a huge purple bruise appeared. Though it was very sore for several days, I was very proud of it and would strip to the waist to show all and sundry how brave I was. Since the kitchen was a busy place – Tiwlip’s and Cerys’s friends were always dropping by – I had ample opportunity. I even yanked off my top in the Spar in White Harbour to show the staff and shoppers my now-yellowing bruise. This caused Tiwlip some anxiety, she told me later, because she expected social services to be calling any second.
She and Cerys had to laugh though, when they caught me at the paddock fence, naked to the waist, giving Bethan a gentle telling off. Bethan’s head was low as if she were listening carefully. Her ears twitched.
‘Now, just look what you did, Bethan, you bad horse,’ I was saying. ‘It’s getting better now but it was horrible – all black. You should be ashamed of yourself. I think you need to say sorry.’
Bethan whinnied and shook her head.
Of course, I don’t remember all this, but the story was repeated at Tiwlip’s coffee mornings and whenever Cerys’s friends came by to sit around the Aga, smoking and drinking cans of beer. Cerys would say:
‘And then he said: “We can’t be friends again until you say you’re sorry,” and – would you believe it, Bethan’s head went up and down, like a piston, didn’t it, Tiwlip?’
We both called her ‘Tiwlip’ rather than ‘Mam’ because that is what we had always done and that was how she wanted it. It only occurred to me many years later that none of us was related by blood, though we were closer than any regular family.
Well, the company would shriek with laughter at the story and I would stand there, stuck somewhere between embarrassment and pride, but certain that I was loved.
I can’t remember whether it was before or after Bethan bit me but anyway, round about this time, there was the incident of the nail in my head. I had been playing in an outhouse at Blaen Cwm which was the house of my great friend, Gethin. He had bright red hair and was known at school as ‘The Electric Carrot’. He lived in a big farmhouse at the head of a valley on the road to Llandysul. It was not as big as ours and it was rather ramshackle but I liked its quirkiness.
The outhouse had been a tack room but Gethin’s family no longer kept horses and the stables had been converted to garages. The old tack room was now where old furniture, obsolete agricultural instruments, and other unwanted stuff was sent to die.
We had made a den under an old table – I think it must have been a workbench because there was a vice at one end. We had covered it with a massive tarpaulin and some hessian sacks and we spent the whole day in there, chattering and playing cards. Gethin’s mam had brought us sandwiches and crisps and Welsh cakes and we were as happy as Larry.
Later in the afternoon I saw a flash of pink through the gap in the fabric we’d made to let in the light. It was Cerys in her mini, come to take me home. I stood up to go and there was a sickening pain in the top of my head.
When I emerged, Cerys had just got out of the car and burst out laughing.
‘What on earth have you been doing?’ she said. ‘You’ve gone all red-haired like Gethin.’
It was only when she came closer that she could see that my blond hair was full of blood and her laughter turned to busy concern. She called for Gethin’s mother as I explained what had happened.
A quick examination of the table showed that there was a large nail sticking through its underside and this had gone into my head. I touched my hair – it was horribly sticky.
So with a temporary dressing on my head, it was off to A&E at Bronglais again. The damage was less dramatic than it looked and the nail hadn’t been driven into my skull.
Two years later, I tripped and fell down the cellar steps, from head to foot. The steps were stone and I suppose I could have suffered worse injuries than I did, or even death. As it was, I sustained a very deep cut on my brow, which bled profusely. I have the scar still and a patch where my eyebrow doesn’t grow.
They were getting to know me quite well at Bronglais.